Red tape risks strangling Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s ambitious plan to spend billions on new infrastructure in a bid to create jobs, premiers and mayors charge.

The warning came as provincial and territorial leaders head into a day-long discussion in Ottawa on Friday with Harper on possible remedies to cushion effects of a worsening economic downturn.

In recent years, politicians complain, Ottawa has made repeated promises of cash — but the money remains in limbo, along with projects across the nation.

“We need action today. We don’t need red tape. We don’t need funds created that are never spent, like the Building Canada Fund,” said Toronto Mayor David Miller, referring to Ottawa’s much-ballyhooed seven-year, $33-billion infrastructure scheme that has been roundly criticized for not flowing money.

“That won’t work. It won’t have an immediate stimulus,” Miller said at a gathering of big-city mayors on the eve of the first ministers’ meeting. The mayor cited the example of the Spadina subway extension to York University, which was delayed two and a half years waiting for federal funds — long after Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced the project.

Ottawa had asked municipal politicians for a list of “shovel ready” projects that could be quickly started.

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